Jakobs Saga Postola, tveggia postola saga Jons ok Jakobs og Liber Sancti Jacobi

  • Álfrún Gunnlaugsdóttir Professor Emeritus
Keywords: Medieval Iceland, Medieval Latin, Bible, Apostle, Christian Hagiography, Codex Calixtinus


This article discusses the three existing Icelandic sagas of the apostle James and stresses the relationships between them. The oldest and most original of these sagas is preserved in the manuscript AM 645 4to, dated to the 13th century. This saga is a translation of a short Latin narrative included in the Historia Apostolica, attributed to the so-called Pseudo-Abdias and thought to be from the 6th or 7th century. The narrative of James in AM 645 4to is a close translation of the PseudoAbdian Passio sancti Iacobi Apostoli filii Zebedei, covering the life of the apostle (vita) and his death (passio). The second saga of the apostle James is preserved in the manuscript AM 630 4to, from the 17th century. It also narrates the vita and passio of the apostle. These parts of the saga are based entirely on the translation and narrative in the AM 645 4to version, except that the entire saga in AM 630 4to is longer, including as it does an account of the transferal (translatio) of James’s body to Spain and its burial there. The saga reflects a fusion of two different legends that is thought to have taken place at the end of the 11th century. One of the legends narrated the vita and passio of the apostle and the other the translatio of his body, and I consider this saga, the AM 630 4to version, to display the original, post-combination version of the narrative. A written source for the account of the apostle’s translatio added to the vita of the apostle James is found in the latter part of a 12th-century sermon by Honorius of Autun. The Norse translation of Honorius’ sermon is well-made and meticulous. The third version of the saga on James is found in the Tveggia postola saga Jons ok Jakobs (Combined Saga of the Apostles John and James), included in the Skarðsbók collection of apostles’ lives. Although this narrative represents an amalgamation of two different sagas, those of John and James, the latter narrative is intact enough to allow us to isolate it and speculate on its original form at the hands of its translator. It has the unique characteristic of containing sentences in Latin, Bible citations derived from the Pseudo-Abdian text, and is based on the same narratives as the two aforementioned sagas, although the material has been treated so freely that it may be considered a revision. For further clarification:

AM 645 4to (13th century)< Pseudo-Abdias (6th or 7th century) AM 630 4to (17th century) < Pseudo-Abdias and Honorius of Autun (12th century). These two narratives appear to have been combined at the end of the 11th century. Tveggia postola saga Jons ok Jakobs (14th century) < Pseudo-Abdias and Honorius of Autun (yet only the saga of the apostle James) I consider the last saga to be a new but unfaithful translation of the texts of Pseudo-Abdias and Honorius of Autun. Additionally, the Tveggia postola saga contains a miracle book containing twenty-five miracles attributed to the apostle James. These miracle accounts can also be read in the Codex Calixtinus, a work on the apostle James written in Latin. The manuscript is dated to the 12th century and is housed in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. There is no doubt that the Norse translation of the miracle book attached to the Tveggja postola saga Jóns ok Jakobs is based on a similar Latin exemplar as the Codex Calixtinus miracle book. I am not familiar with another work in Latin corresponding to the miracle book of the Tveggja postula saga, but comparing it to the Codex Calixtinus text reveals the saga’s miracle book to be for the most part a precise translation. All of the narratives on James in the Icelandic manuscripts are also preserved in the Codex Calixtinus, giving me reason to compare the two sets. As the Codex Calixtinus sheds light on the Icelandic sagas, so do those sagas shed light on the Codex Calixtinus.